As more and more Americans begin to live openly as transgender individuals, including young children and teens, questions have arisen about how these young people are faring. Statistics show that transgender people tend to have greater rates of depression, suicidality and anxiety than the general population. But, could this trend be reversed if families were more accepting and supportive of the child’s gender indentity? A study published on February 26, 2016 in the medical journal Pediatrics sought to answer this question.
New University of Washington researchers looked at 73 children, aged 3 to 12, who had “socially transitioned,” meaning that they had made changes consistent with their gender identity, such as changing the pronoun used to refer to them, their name, clothing and hair style.
The parents of the children were asked to complete two surveys asking about whether their children had experienced any symptoms of anxiety or depression during the previous week.
What they found was that the transgender children were no more depressed or anxious than either their brothers and sisters or other children their age and gender. In addition, they were less depressed and anxious than gender-nonconforming children in past studies.
According to study author Kristina Olson, there has long been an assumption that being transgender is a type of mental disorder. In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a handbook which is used in the diagnosis of mental disorders, included a diagnosis called “gender identity disorder” up until 2013. When the 5th edition came out, it was replaced with the term “gender dysphoria,” removing its designation as a disorder.
Olson notes that it was also believed that children who do not conform to gender roles will automatically suffer from anxiety and depression. Her study results, she says, show that this is not true.
Co-author Katie McLaughlin suggests that the study results show that family support could help to prevent the mental health problems which are so often seen in transgender people.
Olson does admit, however, that some biases may exist in the study. For example, parents may be overly optimistic in their reporting of their child’s moods, wanting to believe that they are doing better than they are.
The study is part of the TransYouth Project, which is being led by Olson, and is the first large, longitudinal study of its kind in the United States. It currently includes 150 transgender children and their families from 25 states, but Olson is seeking to recruit more people for the study. She and her team would like to examine other areas in the future, such as what effect treatment by one’s peers or the age of transition might have on how well transgender children are able to adjust.
Overall, the researchers feel that their results are encouraging, showing that transgender children who receive adequate family support will have fewer problems with depression and anxiety.